On the west coast of Scotland an experiment in privatised road building is underway. A private consortium of destruction companies: Miller (based in Scotland), Dywidag (based in Germany) and the Bank of AmeriKKKa are clearcutting woodland, dynamiting shorelines and decimating one of the largest otter populations in Europe. What they are replacing the otters with is a tollbridge from the mainland to the Isle of Skye, a completely useless enterprise even if you do believe in economics. The bridge will bisect Eilean Ban, where the author of ‘Ring of Bright Water’, Gavin Maxwell lived and worked.
It was cold. I was wet, my wellies were too big and... I was ready to sneer at a bunch of dreadlocked professional environmentalists from England
‘In writing this book about my home I have not given to the house its true name. This is from no desire to create mystery - indeed it will be easy enough for the curious to discover where I live - but because identification in print would seem in some sense a sacrifice, a betrayal of its remoteness and isolation, as if by doing so I were to bring nearer its enemies of industry and urban life.’ - from the 1959 foreword by Gavin Maxwell to his book ‘Ring of Bright Water’.
It was 6.45am last Wednesday morning, and, faithful as ever to the call of a faxed press release, I was in Eileen a cheo to observe Skye Earth Action, whoever they were, do something newsworthy on and around the site of the under-construction Skye bridge. It was cold. I was wet, my wellies were too big and.... I was ready to sneer at a bunch of dreadlocked professional environmentalists from England, jumping on the Skye bridge bandwagon for a bit of dubious worker-baiting. My official high visibility jacket was visibly leaking. My notebook had turned to paper mache. And not a single would-be protester had materialised.
Then Colin and his two pals stepped out of an old Ford Fiesta. Veterans of Scotland for Demagoguery, they saw parallels between Pollock Estate in Glasgow and its imminent three-lane status, Twyford Down and the Skye bridge: environmental vandalism without consultation. Colin had dreadlocks. And a Harris Tweed sports jacket.
Out of the gloom came reporters, camera crews, photographers, a dog on a string. A white van drew up topped with two rubber dinghies. Out piled more dreadlocked youngsters with rings through their noses, tie-dyed skirts, expensive trainers and expensive accents. They looked like designer new age travellers. Hardly anyone looked older than 18. The boats, patched and pumped up every five minutes were launched to the sound of native ululating and a tin whistle. Somebody danced, smiling. A large chap, looking like an extra from the Three Musketeers, began to juggle large skittles. The dog watched. Anonymous press-briefings were given: The otters on Eilean Ban are being wiped out, probably have been already; work began on the bridge before the public enquiry had reported; not enough local consultation; the bridge contravenes three international conventions, and so on. So what action was planned? We would see.
The trouble began. The two inflatables landed their amphibious eco-troops on Eilean Ban and on a barge next to one of the bridge’s concrete foundations. Through binoculars, I could see workmen trying to restrain the demonstrators. They failed, and soon three figures were fluttering banners from a tower crane. It still wasn’t 8am. On the island, a solitary tracked excavator appeared to have gone mad. Its driver began spinning the excavating arm at high speed, as well as advancing on the demonstrators menacingly and attempting to pour water over them. – ‘It’s like a wild animal’, someone said. It looked like assault with a deadly digger.
Then Colin attempted a one-man protest towards another construction raft. A water cannon was turned on him, and the cable loosened so he fell into the water. His dreadlocks straightening after he had crawled out, he simply smiled, - “it’ll take more than a wee drop of cold water to stop a bit of democracy! It’s the battle of the Braes all over again.” The inflatables whizzed about, as three Miller-Dywidag vessels, including a tug and a large crane barge appeared to make every effort to intercept, block and collide with the little dinghies. A former lifeboat, the Blue Angel, had been hired by television crews and it too became subject to the clearly dangerous attentions of the contractors’ boats, who seemed to have been given crash training from Japanese whalers, British chemical waste dumpers and French nuclear test supervisors.
One of the dinghies landed nearby. Would anyone like to go out and see what was happening from close quarters? Myself and Davie Murray from the P&J said our prayers and headed for the action.
Journalistic objectivity is a wonderful thing. However, it is easily damaged, especially by people trying to ram your boat, sink you, throw rocks at you, then threatening you first with a crowbar and then a grappling hook, not to mention attacking you with a tracked excavator. We shouted that we were press. They laughed. The harassed police sergeant on Eilean Ban was doing his best to maintain good humour and control but it seemed the workers on the contract - supposedly under the impression that their jobs were being threatened by the protesters - were very far from being under police supervision. We were on our way back to the shore when our driver, George, saw a barge laden with rocks about to unload its cargo. ‘you’re in at the deep end now’, he shouted gleefully, and headed directly for the huge, black, stone-laden tub. Oh dear!
We escaped without being sucked into the barge’s propellers and chopped into otter feed, but only just. Back on soggy land, I watched the rest of the confrontation become increasingly nasty and ill-tempered from the Miller-Dywidag and police side, I saw no sign of violence from the protesters.
There were arrests. The police refused to tell anyone where the detained protesters were being held, or even if they had been charged. An inspector threatened to arrest a young girl for breach of the peace - unless she behaved. She was trying to discover what had happened to her friends. It was not northern constabularies’ finest hour.
My stomach improved, after bacon and egg rolls at a Kyleakin cafe. My objectivity did not. Suddenly I felt angry. Perhaps they were just a bunch of adrenaline-junkie kids having a summer holiday of eco-protest. Perhaps they looked a bit weird, dressed funny, juggled. Perhaps they were out of order, but did they deserve water cannon, the risk of serious injury or death at the hands of huge earth moving machines and boats? Some were nearly killed for God's sake. I can only say that once the bridge is built, if there is a usable alternative, I will take it. Now that's good PR.
- Article taken from ‘The Scotsman’
Skye Ferry Workers Solidarity
The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) have pushed a solidarity campaign in support of ferry workers at Skye who will lose their jobs due to the bridge project. The ferries are owned by the Scottish Office who, in order to entice bidders, have said they will shut down the ferry service the day the bridge opens. As it is the Bank of America which is funding the project, it is in America where campaigning has begun. So far, many labour groups in the US have written letters of protest, as well as warnings that unless the BoA pulls out, there will be pickets and occupations of BoA premises. Promises of solidarity and action have so far come from IWW Marines Workers and the Workers Solidarity Alliance, both from within the US.